Rakushun the hanjuu was born in the kingdom of Kou. He travelled to En to be educated in their university, where he did quite well. He went to the kingdom of Ryuu at the behest of En-ou, to investigate why youma were appearing there. When he graduated from En's university, he went to Kei, where he became chosai to his friend Youko, the Empress Sekishi, ruler of Kei. In the evenings, the two of them stayed up late together. Sometimes they would talk, sometimes they would share tea or play chess. Sometimes they enjoyed other recreational activities before sharing a tender kiss goodnight and falling asleep.

"Kou's kirin has begun receiving people," Youko said at lunch one day, surprising her dining companions.

Shoukei smiled sadly at that. "I am glad for Kou. It is not good for a kingdom to be without its ruler and kirin," she said. She was thinking of her own homeland, the kindgom of Hou, who still had no sign of so much as a ranka on the sacred tree.

"Are you concerned for some reason, Empress?" Keiki asked, wanting to know why the ruler of Kei had brought this up.

Youko shook her head. "I am concerned that the next emperor of Kou is my chosai," she said with a smile and a fond look over at Rakushun. "I could neither bare to lose Rakushun's good advice and calming presence, nor sentence Kou to lose their ruler."

No one moved for a moment.

"I was born in Kou," Rakushun admitted softly, "but I do not think I would be the emperor."

"I didn't know about Kei at all, and yet here I am," Youko pointed out to her friend. "You and I will go to Mount Hou and Hoto palace tomorrow Rakushun, and see what Kou-Taiho has to say about it," she said. After all, it was the only way to know.

All heads at the table nodded their acceptance of this. They did need to know where their empress was after all.

"You will ride one of my shirei there, so that you are not gone for long," Keiki instructed. He didn't want his empress away from her duties for longer than necessary.

"No Keiki," Youko answered. "I will take a ship, and as many of the refugees of Kou as I can. Kou-Taiho, I have no doubt, has many to choose from already, but as you know, sometimes the one chosen to rule is the one least expected."

Keiki sighed heavily, but conceded.

~oOo~

"Greetings, Kouki," Youko said, bowing low to the young man who stood before her.

"I am sorry," he said. "You are not Kou's ruler."

Youko laughed. "Of course I'm not. I'm already Kei's ruler."

Kouki blinked and peered closer at her, surprised and confused. "I do not understand, why have you come to see me?"

Youko smiled. "I have brought refugees from Kou, and my own chosai comes from Kou. I thought you might like to meet some of them."

Kouki's confused face relaxed into a smile. "Yes, thank you Kei-ou."

"Youko, please Kouki. My name is Youko."

He smiled at her and followed to where she had brought these people. The smile slipped from his face when he saw how many refugees there were, though they all seemed healthy enough – something he felt must be attributed to Kei's empress.

The red head clapped her hands twice above her head, gaining the attention of all the people.

"My friends," she called to them, "I enjoyed sailing here with you, and getting to know you. I hope that when you return to Kou, you will write to me, but right now, Kouki has an important duty to perform, please be kind to him."

The many people put down the small tasks that they were doing, removed food from where it was cooking so that it would not burn, and all lined up together. Some bowed their heads respectfully, others – mostly the children – stared in awe as the Kou-Taiho walked along the line, meeting each of them.

Kouki seemed to enjoy meeting the children the most, and Youko smiled to see them interacting. It had been a pleasant voyage with these people, and she had gotten to know a few of the families, as well as the few hanjuu among the refugees, who she had been very pleased to meet.

It was before a hanjuu that Kouki stopped, abruptly. He was a cat hanjuu, and well into his thirties, though of course it was hard to tell when he was in his beast form. He was in his human form at that time however, and though he was bowing, his face was still upturned to Kouki in awe.

Kouki, for his part, knelt down in front of the hanjuu, touching his horn to the man's toes.

"I am honoured to accept," the cat hanjuu breathed in awe.

Youko sighed in relief. She had gotten to know this man among the other refugees, and he had a good head on his shoulders. He would make a fine emperor of Kou, and she still had Rakushun at her side.

Around her, the people she had brought from Kou all started cheering.

~oOo~

"I told you I would not be chosen for the emperor," Rakushun said with a smile when he and Youko had returned to Kei, and were once more sitting together in her private chambers.

"But you could have been," she countered. "And I still think Kou is missing out by you not being the emperor. All the same, I'm terribly glad that you aren't."

Rakushun laughed gently, wrapping his hand around hers before speaking. "He is going to have a hard time I think," he said. "Many in Kou are used to carrying prejudices against the hanjuu."

"I have full confidence in them," Youko answered. "Kouki knew his emperor without even being told his name."

Rakushun nodded.

For a while, they were engulfed in a comfortable silence as they finished their tea.

"Are you tired?" he asked at last, when both of their cups were empty.

Youko smiled. "A little," she admitted, blinking slowly. "Will you tuck me in?"

Rakushun rose from his chair and extended a hand to his empress. "It would be my pleasure," he answered, whispering in her ear and trailing a hand down her arm.

Youko moaned happily, tangling her fingers in his grey hair as they moved towards her bed.

~The End~